The view from the northeast residence on the 25th floor of the Plymouth Harbor tower is not so bad, particularly on a sunny winter day with boating activity far below on Sarasota Bay. That spectacular panorama catching nearly every angle of cityscape, gulf side sunsets and the moon rising over the bay, is the reason Joe and Nancy Berkely chose their new home at Plymouth Harbor in 2003.
We talked with Joe recently on one of those sunny days, taking a leisurely stroll back through the lucky turns of events that brought him together with Nancy, his wife of 69 years. It was only a year ago that she passed after a long illness during which she remained in their beautiful tower residence.
Smiling with the memory, he remarked on her unfailing beauty and spirit. “She always lit up the room wherever she went,” says Joe who first met his lifelong sweetheart in Dodge City during the war. She was a student at the University of Kansas. He was the daring young pilot, driving a red convertible no less!
They were introduced by the daughter of the Lieutenant Governor during a mixer between the B-26 pilots training at the Dodge City base and sorority girls from the University of Kansas in Lawrence. That high-placed connection came in handy when a special call to his superiors granted him a rare leave to attend the football game when Nancy was crowned homecoming queen.
Their courtship was a charmed one marked by lucky opportunities during the uncertain times of war. When they married, Joe, who had grown up in Chicago, decided to put down his roots in Nancy’s hometown and Dodge City is where they built their life together.
Joe bought a little weekly newspaper that he steadily built into the High Plains Journal, significant news source for the agricultural community throughout the Midwest. He learned about farming and ranch interests from the ground up with the help of many in the close knit social circles of Dodge City and beyond. With a good mind for promotions and building support for the paper, Joe was actively involved in agricultural innovations to solve problems such as weeds and drought. While one experiment seeding clouds blew rain well off the mark, a targeted spray on wheat fields from a helicopter proved to be a reliable and more cost effective method to eliminate weeds and improve yield.
That entrepreneurial mind of Joe’s never stopped though the years of raising their daughter Nan Berkely Griffin, who now lives in Myakka City, not far away. As the years passed, he and Nancy enjoyed more time at their winter home on Longboat Key where they kept a boat at the dock ready for time on the water whenever they wished.
When they no longer wanted to spend their energy maintaining a house themselves, it was a natural transition to move to a new home at Plymouth Harbor. They simply brought their boat over and moved into the penthouse that Nancy had designed for them herself. It featured a spacious kitchen, two bathrooms, gracious living, dining and work spaces and that view . . . ah, that view!
Once they moved in, not long after the graceful John Ringling Bridge was completed, Joe and Nancy became active members of the Plymouth Harbor community; Joe served on resident committees and Nancy simply loved the many people who lived here.
No longer serving on resident committees, Joe continues to keep active with fitness classes and the encouragement of our Wellness team. He still goes to work in his home office, maintaining communication with those now running the daily operations of the High Plains Journal which remains a leading voice for its community despite the digital revolution that rocked the newspaper industry.
When asked about the key to his success, or that of anyone who wants to be successful, Joe’s answer was, “Luck would be a big one! I was lucky to pick the right girl.” He’s quick to point to the luck of meeting his wife Nancy and the luck of meeting the right people who supported his first business efforts. But he adds quickly, “A good work ethic and intelligence.”
Reflecting on what drove his success, Joe also credits his father for instilling a sense of high personal and moral standards. Although his father wanted Joe to follow him into the medical profession, and he even studied medicine for a brief period, it was not meant to be. Studying at the University of Chicago, Central YMCA College, Notre Dame and finally earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of Valparaiso, Joe had a wealth of experiences before he ended up in the Army Air Corps. There officer training instilled further expectations of leadership as “an officer and a gentlemen”.
Joe took care of newspaper employees, paying everyone equally for their work regardless of gender. To this day the longevity of staff service is one of the strengths that have carried the business through difficult economic times. He’s proud that three times the union came in trying to organize the workers and each time the High Plains Journal employees resisted.
While Joe is still connected with the High Plains Journal, whose publisher calls on him at least twice a week, Joe makes time to enjoy his waterfront lifestyle. It’s more than that panoramic view. He still has a boat at the Plymouth Harbor dock. It’s a “Ford class” fishing boat, 32 feet, with twin inboard motors. At least once a month, Joe and a few fellow fisherman from Plymouth Harbor take her out for a day of fishing in the gulf. Now, that’s a zest for life!